Players who get slapped with the transition tag rarely get signed by another team. That’s because slapping a player with the transition tag generally means you want to keep that player around long-term and you’re willing to match close to any offer another team makes. Given that, you might guess that the Bills overpaid to land Charles Clay, originally given the transition tag by Buffalo’s divisional rival Miami. You’d be correct. This is a huge overpay, a big part of the reason why the Dolphins gave up on re-signing Clay earlier this off-season and why they declined to match within a day (their final offer was reportedly 27 million over 4 years).
This deal is worth 38 million over 5 years with gives Clay the 4th highest average salary in the NFL by a tight end, behind only Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, and Rob Gronkowski. Clay has been a solid player in his 2 years as a starter in the NFL, grading out 34th in 2013 and 14th in 2014, but he’s hardly one of the top tight ends in the game. Clay’s replacement in Miami, Jordan Cameron, signed a deal for a similar amount annually (7.5 million annually) and he’s an inferior player, but just because that was a bad signing doesn’t mean this is a good signing.
On top of that, Cameron’s deal was over a much shorter period of time (2 years, 15 million) so it doesn’t hurt the Dolphins long-term as much as Clay’s deal does to the Bills. Clay’s deal has more guaranteed money (20 million) than Cameron’s deal does in total money and that figure doesn’t even really represent how much of this deal is essentially guaranteed. That’s because Clay will make 24.2 million over the first 2 years of this deal, a move designed to make it impossible for the Dolphins to keep Clay under the cap in 2015 and 2016.
Not only will Clay almost definitely see all of that money over the next 2 years even if it’s not all guaranteed (they won’t release him after 1 year and 20 million), but because he’s set to earn just 4.5, 4.6, and 4.7 million in 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively, the only way he gets released is if he’s an absolute trainwreck. If he’s still a serviceable tight end in 2017-2019, he’ll see the entirety of this deal, even though it’s paying him much more than the average serviceable tight end overall. This is essentially a fully guaranteed 5 year, 38 million dollar deal, which will take him through his age 30 season in 2019. It’s a case of a team falling in love with an above average starter and doing everything they could to bring him in, regardless of the costs. This isn’t how good teams are built.